May 26, 2011 at 9:40 AM
As part of SoxProspects.com's annual draft coverage, we will be featuring interviews with top local draft eligible prospects. Today's interview is the second in the series. Click here for John Gray's Q&A with UMass-Lowell pitcher Jack Leathersich.
Under head coach Jim Penders, the University of Connecticut baseball team has become something of a baseball factory in its tiny corner of the Nutmeg State. Among a loaded junior class for the Huskies, who enter this week’s Big East tournament as the conference’s top seed, are a pair of players expected to be taken in the first round of next month’s draft, outfielder George Springer (above left) and pitcher Matt Barnes. Springer, a junior from New Britain, Conn., emerged from the Cape Cod Baseball League last summer as arguably the top collegiate outfielder in the country and did nothing to shed that tag this season. He earned Big East Player of the Year honors, batting .379 with 12 home runs, 72 RBI and an OPS of 1.165.
Barnes (left), a 6-foot-4 righty from Bethel, Conn., was the Big East Pitcher of the Year, going 11-3 with a 1.11 ERA in 14 starts. He struck out 97 in 105.0 innings of work. Matt and George took some time last month to talk about their season so far, the draft process, and who would win in a showdown between the two. Thanks to both players, as well as Kristen DeCarli of UConn’s athletic communications department, for being so accommodating on a day when the two stars were in high demand.
Jon Meoli: It’s been a crazy year for you two in terms of attention and expectations. Can you talk about what the season has been like with all the pressure? Has it been difficult?
George Springer: I don’t really think it’s been any different. Now there might be some increased pressure, but you really can’t think about it. With Matt, he’s going to go out and he’s going to throw, and I’m going to go out and I’m going to play hard.
Matt Barnes: It’s a little different just being older, but other than that the expectations really aren’t there. It helps to have somebody like him, (shortstop) Nick (Ahmed) and a couple of other guys who are going to be high draft picks to talk about it as well. It kind of allows us to talk about it if we want, and if not, we don’t really think about it. We just go out, have a good time and play.
JM: The team got off to a slow start, though you’ve picked it up of late. How do you balance the idea of team success when your own personal achievements have such a big influence on your futures?
GS: As a player, the goal is to help the team. Ultimately, it’s about the team. For me personally, if I go 0-for-4 and we win, then I’m happy. That might not sound right, but I’d rather that and we win than for me to go 4-for-4 and we lose.
MB: Baseball is kind of a funny sport like that, because it’s extremely individual but it’s still a team sport(?). If he goes 3-for-4 with 4 RBI or if I go out and throw a good game, there’s a direct correlation between us performing well and our team winning. I think you just can’t get caught up in the individual (aspects). If you come through in the moment and any of us performs in the spotlight, it’s ultimately helping the team, and that’s what matters.
JM: Last year, (supplemental first round pick) Michael Olt was going through the same stuff with the scouts around and going through the draft process. Have you used any of what you saw with last season to prepare yourselves for the process?
GS: That was something that, as his friend and teammate, I was happy for him. I can assume that all 35 guys last year were, and anyone who’s played with Mike. Just to watch the whole process for him, (13th round pick, second baseman) Pierre (LePage) and the other guys was awesome.
MB: It was awesome. They’re great guys. It couldn’t have happened to better guys. Just watching how they went about it, how even though they were great players and a lot of people were talking about them playing the game, they really enjoyed being at the ballpark every day. They didn’t let the pressure of being prospects get to them.
JM: Talk a little bit about the process of being scouted for the Major League draft.
GS: For me, it might be a little different from him as a pitcher. From my experiences so far, it’s all been the same. But it’s really cool. You don’t normally have professional scouts for professional teams sitting in your living room, but there have been. There are guys here who should have that, and there are others that have, and if you ask them the same question, they’ll just tell you that it’s great.
MB: I think they’re all pretty universal. They come in and tell you where the stadiums are, talk about the club a little bit and what they’re all about. Like he said, it’s a pretty cool experience, but they’re universal in the kinds of information that they cover.
JM: George, you went through the same thing in high school, though it’s on a much larger scale now. Did you consider signing when the Twins drafted you out of high school?
GS: I had my mind set on school, but as a kid and as a player, the goal is to ultimately play professional baseball. If it was something where I thought it was right and that it was something I should have done, I assume that I could have. But I’m happy with the decision I made now.
JM: Now I assume you guys have been in contact with all thirty teams at this point. What’s it meeting with a team like the Red Sox who are drafting lower and might not have a realistic shot of being able to select you. Do they cover all their bases?
MB: Anything can happen in a draft. You never know where a player is going to go, so yes, even teams that don’t pick that high are covering their bases. They still watch and still scout.
JM: Now, you guys are both from around here. Who did you guys grow up rooting for?
GS: I’m a Sox fan.
MB: I’m a Yankees fan, but it doesn’t matter. Whoever gives you the opportunity, you take it.
JM: Can you each give us a scouting report on yourself as a player?
GS: I would say that I go out and play hard. Sometimes, I’ll get out ahead of myself, but I’ve got to slow it down. That’s the thing that I’ve been working on the last couple years, just slowing everything down. I’m a guy who’s going to go out, play hard, and have a lot of fun.
MB: I just go out and try to get ahead of batters, throwing strikes and letting myself work. I let the defense play their games. I try to stay consistent from start to start and within a start. I like to get ahead of batters and see where the game takes me. Good things happen when you get ahead of batters. I throw a fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup. The fastball is probably 93-95, touching 97. The curve is high-70’s, slider low-to-mid 80’s and change-up low-to-mid 80’s as well.
JM: George, if you had to stand in against Matt, what would your approach be?
GS: I’m a little bit different. I know what he’s throwing [both laugh].
MB: Yeah, he’s been in center field for every one of my starts for three years.
GS: I’ve been fortunate enough to play with him for the last four or five years. I know what he thinks, I know what he’s going to throw in certain situations, so it’s not fair at all. Sometimes, he’d get me. Sometimes, every once in a while, I’d hit one hard off him, but once I get in the box I know that he’d want to strike me out and I’m trying to hit a home run off him.
MB: Whenever he gets in the box in practice and we’re going against each other, we make eye contact and just laugh.
GS: I might utter something too, as a joke, but it’s all in fun.